Saturday, March 09, 2013

But They're Not Alone. U.S. Politicians Overestimate Their Constituents Conservatism

Republicans and even Democrats have been found to think their constituents much more conservative than they are in fact.  It's no surprise, therefore, that they govern according to false perception and at odds with the public they purport to serve.

Conducted by the University of California’s David Broockman and University of Michigan’s Christopher Skovron, the survey of nearly 2,000 legislators from across America documents politicians’ perceptions of their constituents’ views on hot-button issues like universal health care and same-sex marriage. It then compares those perceptions with constituents’ actual views.

The juxtaposition reveals a jarring truth: Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers hugely overestimate the conservatism of the very people they are supposed to represent. In all, the report finds that “conservative politicians systematically believe their constituents are more conservative than they actually are by over 20 percentage points, while liberal politicians also typically overestimate their constituents’ conservatism by several percentage points.” Ultimately, that has resulted in a political system inherently hostile to mainstream proposals and utterly unrepresentative of public opinion.

Citing “Richard Nixon’s pronouncement that a ‘silent majority’ of Americans backed his policies” and “Sarah Palin’s suggestion that a latent ‘real America’ supported her,” the researchers correctly note that there remains “a folk theory among conservative politicians that the American public is considerably more conservative than it seems at face value.”

There is also the fact that in the age of money-dominated politics, many professional lawmakers do not come from the ranks of the commoner—instead, more and more are wealthy upper-crusters whose cloistered upbringing inside gated communities leaves them wholly unfamiliar with their constituencies. 

Such isolation is then exacerbated during their time in office. Ensconced in a bubble of conservative-minded corporate lobbyists and mega-donors, they come to wrongly assume that what passes for a mainstream position in that bubble somehow represents a consensus position in the larger world.

The transformation of the Liberal Party to Conservative-Lite and the metamorphosis of the New Democrats into Latter-Day-Liberal centrists, all within the bubble of a wobbly petro-state, would seem to suggest a similar susceptibility to the myth of public conservatism.   Harper openly set out to drag Canada's political centre far to the right and, in achieving his prime objective, the Liberals and New Democrats have been his dutiful handmaidens.   Sadly, we may have to wait for a new post-Mulcair/post-Trudeau generation of leader before we will find anyone with the courage to even Canada's political keel.

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